After thirty years, countless games, and even a few films, Mario and Luigi get the animated Hollywood treatment with The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023).
It’s evident right away that writer Matthew Fogel and directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic are huge fans of the property they’ve adapted. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is packed to the gills with all of the characters (major and minor), kingdoms, and power ups that fans of the beloved franchise could hope for…for better and for worse.
After a cold open in which Bowser (Jack Black) attacks the Penguin King to claim the Ice Kingdom, the movie opens with struggling Brooklyn brothers Mario (Chris Pratt) and Luigi (Charlie Day) trying to get their new plumbing business off the ground. Their family doesn’t support them (an ambitious, but terrible and expensive TV promo isn’t helping) and their first gig ends in comically predictable disaster.
All of these insecurities are fairly typical set-up en route to a journey of discovery and self-actualization. The inciting incident occurs when the stoplight coloured plumbers discover a secret pipe that warps them into a whole new world. They’re separated en route, with scaredy-cat Luigi sucked off to the Darklands where he’s immediately captured by Bowser’s henchmen and imprisoned for the remainder of the film.
That leaves Mario to go off on a heroes quest with his new self-proclaimed best friend Toad (Keegan-Michael Key) and Princess Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy). The latter’s Mushroom Kingdom is under threat from Bowser because the turtle king is determined to marry her and conquer her land in equal measure.
From there it’s a race – sometimes literally – against time to prepare for war. The intrepid trio must travel to the Jungle Kingdom to recruit an army from its fickle leader, Cranky Kong (Fred Armisen) and his warrior son Donkey Kong (Seth Rogan), who doesn’t lack for vanity or hubris. The resulting arena-style battle between Mario and Donkey Kong is appropriately epic and highly enjoyable, if only because it best exemplifies the film’s capacity to balance its action, comedy, and nostalgia in equal measure.
Other notable sequences include a Mario Kart-style chase on Rainbow Road and a final battle set aboard Bowser’s floating castle/ship. The former is curiously stilted and lifeless, while the latter is so frenetic, it feels like the visual embodiment of Adderall.
Both contain amusing moments and tips of the hat to the game’s extensive mythology, but they’re also reflective of the film’s weakness: The Super Mario Bros. Movie is too desperate to pack in game references. Combine this with the film’s break-neck pace, and the whole enterprise feels entirely too frenetic and amped up. There are barely any moments of levity where the characters (or the audience) can simply catch their breath and enjoy the experience; the film operates at a 10 the whole time.
The speed of the narrative, combined with its short runtime and the humour’s emphasis on physical pratfalls and slow-motion, confirms that this is a property aimed predominantly at children. That’s not a bad thing, but it differs from most contemporary animation, which appeals equally to kids and parents.
There’s still adult humour to be found (Lumalee’s fatalism is arguably the film’s greatest running joke), but overall, The Super Mario Bros. Movie feels aimed squarely at kids and fans driven by nostalgia and fan service. Not bad, just not for me. 2.5/5
The special features on the ‘Power Up’ Edition include:
- Getting to Know the Cast: A pretty standard intro to the actors. Throughout the extras everyone is pretty game, though some are far more enthusiastic and natural (Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, Jack Black) than others (Taylor-Joy, Day, and especially Chris Pratt, who is clearly just reading his cue cards out of contractual obligation).
- Leveling Up: Making The Super Mario Bros. Movie: The most substantive extra on the disc is a six part featurette covering various topics like story, world building, music, Power Ups and Easter Eggs. It’s mostly talking heads interspersed with clips from the film that highlight what’s being said, or providing an amusing aside. It’s nice to see creator Shigeru Miyamoto and theme creator Koji Kondo confirm their collaboration on the film, though it’s a shame that they are dubbed by their translators rather than being provided subtitles.
- The Super Mario Bros. Movie Field Guide: A strange extra that introduces the world of the film and the characters. This would actually act as a good primer before watching the film.
- “Peaches” Lyric Video: Exactly what you think. It’s amazing.
- Leadership Lessons with Anya Taylor-Joy: A nice, albeit odd extra in which Taylor-Joy extols five characteristics of a modern leader, tied into the obvious themes of her character and the film’s message about being true to yourself.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie ‘Power Up’ Edition is now available on 4K, Blu and DVD